Laborious Day

About 11:30 last night, having already been blissfully fast asleep for a full hour, I was woken up by my smoke detector, fulfilling its sole function in fine style. I made my bleary way downstairs, following its extraordinarily loud bleating, and the certain scent of smoke. The culprit proved to be a neglected and very scorched pot of tomato sauce on the stovetop of my downstairs neighbor. She was already on the case. No harm done. Crisis averted.

Still, with volumes of acrid marinara smoke now being exhausted into the front yard with a box fan, I decided to sit for a while on my stoop, just in case any passersby had called the fire department. Sometimes New York's bravest are compelled to hose first and ask questions later.

But there wasn't so much smoke, and I probably could have gone back to bed. Instead, as I emerged onto the front porch in my underpants, I heard sounds of the New York of old, or at least sounds I remembered from the lower-east side of the 1980s. A full-on yelling and punching match, just down the block. What the five-oh call a ten-sixteen, "a domestic." A woman screaming; a man, pushing another man backwards down his two slate steps, repeatedly; the man being pushed drunk enough to get up off the sidewalk and keep coming back for more. The woman on a cellphone, beseeching a 911 operator to send help. Me, the neighbor, peering out through the cracked-open screen door. The man doing the pushing following up his thumps with the excellent advise "to just go home." Telling the guy: "if I didn't like you, you'd already be laid out." The thumpee, laid out, but resolutely not going home, then making various attempts to get back in the building. The romantic affiliations of all parties as opaque as the mud of the Gowanus. A squad car, finally, driving up the one-way street the wrong way with the flashers on. Separation. Shouts. Drama. Handcuffs. The police lean the handcuffed man up against my truck. In a loud and drunken voice he describes the cuffs as "irritating." For a moment I wonder whether the driver's side door mirror is okay.

It is now coming just on midnight, and at this point the night is still. The blue flashing lights of the cop cars are flickering on the fronts of the buildings, just like in the movies. No other neighbors have emerged onto the street; Red Hook has become the sort of place where many spend their labor day weekend out of town. But then I hear a sound, a bit like a wheelbarrow, coming down the block from the direction of the water. And a voice: "Hey, look, police...." This delivered not with the urgency that accompanies criminal activity, but in a more questioning tone, as if to wonder: should we be doing what we are doing?

Three men are pushing a large and pristine motor launch along the sidewalk, on a kind of wooden boat trailer. Not a canoe, or a kayak, but a large, Boston Whaler sized outboard, a good eighteen or twenty feet of lapstrake boat. In the middle of the night. When I was about nine years old, the nation's campuses were overtaken with a craze for "streaking." Once, my parents woke my sister and me, just in time to see the bizarre and fabulous sight of a dozen or so stark naked students, pushing a grand piano and a naked pianist on a wheeled piano bench down the street in front of our house. The boat in front of my house was as unexpected and exotic as that piano, but the police didn't bat an eye.

"Where'd you get the boat?" I called out.

"We made it," said one of the men, telling me so much less than I wanted to know. "Really!" They reached Van Brunt, and pushed around the corner.

I went upstairs to bed.

No comments: